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Archive for the ‘The List’ Category

It’s fun to read a book set in your own backyard — so I’ve compiled a short list of fiction that takes place (or supposedly takes place) in or around Williamsburg, Virginia.  Choose a romance, mystery, or historical fiction:

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I am an unabashed fan of crime fiction set in the past. It is fascinating to consider how crimes might have been solved in the days before police departments, forensic scientists, and loads of technology. Often these books hark back to the puzzle side of crime fiction allowing the reader to solve the crime along with the fictional detective. Here are some of my favorite historical crime novels, arranged in chronological order.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments.

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My daughter started college this week, and I start teaching a class for Catholic University’s graduate program in Library Science next week. So, I find myself thinking of books about school and academics. There are a lot of fascinating works of fiction set in academia. They are often funny, satiric, and thoughtful in equal measure. Here are some of my favorites.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments.

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I enjoy cooking, especially in the summer when there are plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits,  and herbs in the garden, only a short walk from the kitchen door. I also enjoy looking through cookbooks to get some new ideas on how to use different ingredients. Here are some of my favorite collections of recipes and ideas for interesting dishes.

More favorites? Add them in the comments.

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A brief driving trip this past summer got me thinking about great road stories. Whether the mode of travel is car, train, plane, or shank’s mare, these tales of the highways and byways are always interesting for their insights into both the traveler and the route. Here are some of my favorite titles of being out on the road.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments.

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Start with two attractive people, add the steamy atmosphere of the kitchen, stir with the fast-paced work environment, and cook up late nights… and you get a recipe for romance in the kitchen!  Here are some books featuring chefs/restaurants/bakeries as a main component of the love story.

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Every so often I find myself in the mood for a sprawling, leisurely-paced work of fiction. There are a multitude of novels written in the 19th century that amply fit the bill. The list below includes some of my favorites. These are great stories and have such a strong sense of place that you are quite transported. They are great reading for a languid week at the beach or a long winter’s night.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments below.

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I doubt that any stories set in SUVs or on 727s will ever have the same oomph as stories set on trains.  Trains return us to a storied past where technology was both practical and magical – what better way for Harry Potter to travel to Hogwarts but the Express from Platform 9 3/4?  Trains can isolate a group of strangers, creating the feel of a country house or locked room for a chilling mystery.  The mechanical and organizational intricacies of a railroad lift the engineer or brakeman to heroic status (even when what they’re doing is in reality a difficult and dangerous job).  The railroad colored the American imagination and is still celebrated in story and song.  Trains also offer the illusion of a fresh start: board one and you have time to become whoever or whatever you want.  No wonder writers still go to them when they want to explore a variety of human experiences.  Buy your ticket and climb on one of these great stories.

Mysteries and Thrillers

Fiction

Nonfiction

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Story is at the heart of any great writing, fiction or nonfiction, but writers from the South seem to have an instinctive understanding of how important stories are to our daily lives. It is through stories that we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us. Stories are also how we come to understand where we are going.  Through our stories we also pass down the customs and traditions that are central to our lives. Here are some writers who are superb storytellers, and for whose characters the past and the future are intricately tied together through their stories.

More favorites? Add them in the comments.

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Maybe you don’t have a copy of the latest James Patterson novel because you’re waiting patiently on the holds list, or maybe he’s just not your cup of tea. Either way, try seeking your thrills from these fast-paced, adrenaline-laced novels.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments below!

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I know, the last time you had to memorize and recite a poem was in high school, and it probably was a traumatic experience. But you should reconsider. Studies have shown that memorization improves memory skills. So here are a handful of poems that you might want to have a go at. I guarantee you will be the hit of your next party or family gathering, as well as extending the life of your brain. All of these are linked to a book in the library’s collection that contains the poem in question.

If you are feeling ambitious and want to try a longer piece, here are some possibilities.

For more choices, take a look at Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize.

And yes, I have memorized most of these at one time or the other, and can still recite parts of all of them.

Other favorite poems to memorize? List them in the comments.

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They’ve all gone downhill since Mr. Rochester set the standard in Jane Eyre, but the craggy stony silent tortured types are still breaking hearts and acting aloof all these years later.

(Sorry about all that testosterone. I’ll consider the women in a future post.)

Other favorites? Add them in the comments below!

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Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593-1652/3

Inspired by the current exhibition at Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum, Women of the Chrysler, here’s a list of women and paintings in historical fiction. On one side of the easel, we have women painting:

On the other side of the easel, we have the muses–wives, mistresses, patrons, and daughters who have inspired great paintings:

Have other favorites? Share them in the comments!

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Edwin Starr got right to the heart of the question in his 1969 song.  In spite of countless efforts to romanticize and idealize war, many writers have persisted in conjuring the vision of deliberate destruction and senseless slaughter that is war’s reality.  Why does war fiction make such compelling reading?  Perhaps, paradoxically, the worst of humanity can show us the best in individuals.   Perhaps we have an atavistic need to experience danger from a safe place.  Perhaps we just haven’t learned the right lessons.

These authors have ventured into the maw of war and returned with a view of humanity at its worst.

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Every time it seems the market for Jane Austen-esque sequels, parodies, and pastiches must have been exhausted, up pops another title. Jane fights crime! The Darcys fight crime! Mr. Darcy has a fling with Charles Bingley! Years go by, and still one cannot walk past the new book shelf without encountering “vampyre” Darcy or vampire Jane herself. It must be hard to jump the shark wearing one of those flimsy gowns.

But if you weary of genteel heroines in empire-waisted dresses… if you simply can’t take one more round of those endless country dances… take a walk on the wilder side of the English novel as publishers turn to Charlotte Brontë for inspiration. Why read about drawing rooms and strolls through Bath when you can have horrible boarding schools and the lonely moors?

Any recommendations? Share them in the comments below!

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There are times when the thought of committing to reading a novel or a work of narrative nonfiction can seem overwhelming. When the distractions of the day do not offer enough concentrated time to get through a longer work, we are fortunate to have a long history of superb essay writing to draw on. The best essayists distill the essence of their topic into a more easily approached form. Here are some of the writers that I go to when I am in need of a brief respite from daily cares. Most of the writers on this list have numerous titles to choose from. The ones listed here are suggested starting points.

Other favorites? Add them in the comments below!

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Some of my favorite works of nonfiction are presented in the graphic format, though calling them “graphic novels” is awkward– novels are fictional– and calling them “graphic novels that aren’t novels” does not roll trippingly from the tongue. I don’t know what to call them, but I do know I like them…

Some biographies:

Some memoirs (all of which have won impressive literary awards):

And some “Maybe this difficult topic will be more accessible with pictures” books:

Other favorites? Add them in the comments below!

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It’s no secret that William Shakespeare is probably history’s greatest literary thief.  Roman sources, medieval Italian stories, English histories, even a contemporary book about the sinking of a ship on its way to Jamestown – all were ripe for the picking.  But Shakespeare took those prosaic tales and turned them into plays that, as Ben Jonson said, were “not of an age, but for all time.”  The conflicts and complex characters (even the foolish ones) that he created dig into the soul of humanity and produce insights that have echoed in cultures across time and space.  (In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Chancellor Gorkon says “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon.”  Don’t ask me to do the translation – that’s for other people.)

But Will himself is not immune from literary borrowing.  So, in honor of his 446th birthday, here is a partial list of books by other authors who have envisioned Shakespearean plays in their own way.  Please add your suggestions via the Comments – we’d love to see them.*

King Lear:

Hamlet:

The Scottish Play (hey, I’m superstitious too)

Romeo and Juliet

The Tempest

A Midsummer’s Night Dream

*Only three of these titles incorporate actual Shakespearean characters, but they offer those characters a unique voice.  A list that covers the universe of books in which Will and/or his characters appear would probably break the Internet, so in the interest of social order, I’m not going to try, and ask you not to include them in your responses.

A final point: both Shakespeare and these authors borrowed freely from other sources and gave them new lives.  If he was born in 1964 instead of 1564, Will would have found writing much more difficult, given recent changes in copyright law.

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